One of the focal points at WKU's media day on Saturday was the expectation for a much improved defense in 2015-2016.
The Hilltoppers return eight starters from last season, including senior linebacker Nick Holt and senior defensive backs Branden Leston and Prince Iworah. Head coach Jeff Brohm noted that six of the past eight Conference USA champions have led the league in total defense, and defensive coordinator Nick Holt (father of the senior linebacker) knows the task he faces.
His son, who finished fourth in tackles in C-USA last seaon, is aware of the task as well, admitting that, "statistically we were one of the worst defenses in the country last year."
Brohm's team may be known for putting up points, but this year the defense looks to change the national perception of Western Kentucky football to a more balanced one. Towards the end of last season, Brohm started to see improvement in his defense, but he emphasized that the weaknesses were still a glaring issue.
"We were not good on third down and gave up too many big plays,” said Brohm. “We were not as good against the tempo teams and we were not as good against the spread teams."
Linebacker Nick Holt pointed out that seeing the success of the offense is a motivator.
"We hear about it in the locker room,” he said. “We listen to our offensive guys say how bad we were and how great they were and that's motivation. We want to beat them everyday.”
This season Coach Holt will have the tools available to him in order to build a viable defense.
Returning up front is standout sophomore defensive end Derik Overstreet, who was the only true freshman to start a game on either side of the ball last year. In his seven starts, the team was 5-2. Also returning on the defensive line are Bryan Shorter and Gavin Rocker, both of whom vastly improved from a physical standpoint compared to a season ago.
The linebacking corps is led by seniors Holt and Dejon Brown who respectively had 111 and 78 tackles last season, good for first and second on the team.
Perhaps the unit to be most excited about, however, is the secondary. The Tops are loaded at safety with juniors Leston and Marcus Ward both returning to their starting roles. On the corners is the talented duo of Iworah and Wonderful Terry who had breakout seasons in 2014-2015. Terry mentioned that a few younger players to watch out for in the secondary are freshmen Martavius Mims and sophomoresJoe Brown and De'Andre Simmons.
No matter who is starting on defense for the Hilltoppers, one thing is clear: they are on a mission to prove that this will be a drastically improved football team. One-sided teams can only go so far, and Coach Holt is determined to make this team more dynamic.
It was obvious a year ago that the defense was not up to par and that is expected to change during Brohm’s second season as head coach. While the WKU offense will continue to put up points in 2015, the defense is anticipating holding opponents from doing the same.